This is a story of one day in my abusive relationship. It’s not about a particularly bad day. Nothing especially traumatic happened. But even now, years since I’ve left that relationship, this day plays over in my mind a lot. Why? I’m not entirely sure. One possible reason is that this incident is a good example of how, no matter what our conflict was over, I just couldn’t win.
And maybe, in a way, this day was a turning point for me in seeing how badly I needed to get out. And if that’s the case, it makes me really grateful for my cantankerous little terrier.
It was a Saturday morning, and the ex and I were eating breakfast at the dining table. My dog was taking an early morning nap next to my chair. The ex and I had been dating for 6 years, living together for a few months. On some level, I had always known he was highly critical and difficult to please. When we would fight, I was always the person who ended up apologizing. But situations like these build slowly.
Abusers romance you. They’re perfect partners when you start dating. And even once you begin to see the situation you’re in, before you can leave, you have to reconcile how you let yourself get there. I thought of myself as a smart, capable, independent woman… and here I was being treated like shit by a man for years. You have to admit that to yourself, and probably, share that with family and friends (if they don’t already know, which they probably do) in order to get out. So, it’s a difficult process.
On this particular day, my ex’s behavior was so absurd, it may have been the beginning of a wakeup call.
The home we shared was in a suburban neighborhood, which was situated in a hot real-estate market. A local real-estate agent would occasionally walk the neighborhood, leaving her card. Once she brought boxes of donuts with her to give to residents she spoke to. (That’s a great marketing technique, by the way, for anyone in real-estate! People loved her!)
I’m surprised we ever answered the door to know this about her though because my dog is so difficult with visitors. I got Banner when he was 2 years old, and he had already been through some trauma. I’m not entirely sure what, but he was a difficult dog from the start. Banner and I have worked with behaviorists, and he’s better, but he is not someone who sits calmly when a stranger comes to the door. For that reason, and because I’m about as introverted as a person can be, I generally don’t answer the door if the doorbell rings, and I’m not expecting anyone.
So back to that particular Saturday. We were having breakfast. The dog was napping. And the doorbell rang. Banner started freaking out, which was completely in character, but annoyed the ex. I grabbed Banner so the ex could answer the door if he wanted, but he didn’t want to answer the door because my barking dog was embarrassing. Whoever it was left within a minute or so.
After breakfast, we went out the front door, preparing to take a walk, and there was a note from the friendly real-estate agent that she had stopped by with donuts. We had missed the donuts because of Banner’s barking. My ex was mad. I felt bad and offered to go get donuts if he wanted them, but he said that wasn’t the point. We went on our walk, and my ex gave me the silent treatment the whole way.
Later that day, I went to the grocery store to stock up for the week. While I was there, I bought my ex a couple of donuts. I didn’t think we needed a whole box, but thought he might be craving them since we’d missed them earlier, and he’d been upset about it.
When I came home with the donuts, he was mad at me for buying unhealthy food and made a comment about how I don’t value his health. Since he was mad that donuts were in the house, I was going to throw them away. He then yelled at me for trying to waste food. I may have made a couple of other maneuvers even trying to make him happy. There was no way to win. And it didn’t matter that I had never done anything to him intentionally. That I had never meant to upset him and that I was working very hard to make him feel better. He wanted to be upset at me and was quite good at finding reasons to be upset and stay upset.
That he was able to create such turmoil over donuts and that it was so clear-cut there was no way for me to win, helped me begin to see the situation I was in for what it really was. So terrible as this particular day was, I am grateful for it. And I am so grateful that my dog barked away that real-estate agent.
I need to go pet my terrier.